My Teaching Philosophy

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Philosophy of Teaching

Teaching is an adventure steeped with prospects for personal and professional development. My experiences have ranged all the way from sharing basic financial concepts with clients of a Fortune 500 firm, to ESL and literacy training for inner city adults, to tutoring junior high school students in after school programs, to instructing community college classes in educational success strategies and, most recently, to developing, marketing and teaching innovative undergraduate courses.

As I prepare to enter the next phase of this adventure I bring with me the keen desire to employ, to the greatest possible advantage, the knowledge and expertise I have secured throughout my career as professor, instructor, tutor, marketer, mentor and learner. My interest in teaching began long ago, when I was awarded a Presidential Fellowship as an entering college freshman. The Presidential Fellowship was specifically designed to sponsor learners from diverse backgrounds exhibiting the potential to be effective future teachers and scholars in order to encourage and assist them to develop careers in education. I recall elucidating my teaching philosophy even then, in the essay required as part of the application for that fellowship. My idea then, as now, was three-pronged.

First, I believe that theory can be rendered more accessible through identification—by constructing classroom experiences that translate the complexities of daily life into continually evolving rhetorical and communication theories. I have always endeavored, in my teaching, to express as clearly as possible my own “mental movie” of the complex phenomena which underlie human communication and to offer tools to use to train the mind to understand these phenomena. This is accomplished by providing students with a variety of approaches to a given topic. Since the field of Communication is inherently interdisciplinary, I often utilize art history, media and cultural studies, sociology, literature, psychology, political science and law in my teaching. In addition, it is valuable to present both primary and secondary texts using modern instructional technology such as PowerPoint whenever possible. Further, guest lecturers provide new perspectives as learners benefit greatly from the expertise of scholars and community leaders. Through such encounters learners begin to see the possibilities for their own lives–both inside and outside of the academy.

Second, I believe that identification must be extended from theoretical models to learners themselves. Learners discover their identities, purposes and goals through interaction with one another and active participation in the essentially social process of learning. That is why the most important assignments in each of my classes are weekly short responses to queries related to the readings, discussion or experience of the week. In this way, I am able to provide a space for those who are introverted to express themselves if they are uncomfortable speaking in class. I also read a few of the responses aloud (anonymously) which fosters confidence in writing and critical thinking skills. And, most importantly, the responses provide a way for me to understand my learners as well as gauge how the material is being processed. Sometimes I need to slow down, provide additional examples or repeat part of a previous lecture to ensure that everyone firmly grasps the concepts presented. This approach has been highly successful. Learners engage with the materials, organize their thoughts and demonstrate their capacities for becoming more aware and compassionate citizens. A number of them have been inspired to go back into their own communities and abroad to help educate others and actively work for political and social change.

The above suggests my third belief—that theoretical and personal identification can only take place in a safe environment where students engage critically with course materials and challenge their own preconceived notions in a supportive and intellectually rigorous environment. This means that I often utilize assignments to de-center the classroom, allowing each learner to have an opportunity to direct the class using multimedia expression and thereby create an opportunity to develop learning partnerships with me and the class as a whole. This also means that as an effective educator I am mindful of my position as a role model of the kind of learning I strive to promote. I must be available to my students both inside the classroom and during office hours, clearly communicate the goals of the course, present the material in a manner that involves the learners’ direct participation, stimulates their senses, imagination, feelings, sense of fairness and social responsibility.

The ultimate realization of my philosophy has been in my own teaching experience. While pursuing my doctoral studies, I noticed that the undergraduate curriculum at the Annenberg School was lacking a focus in African American rhetoric and media image. I proposed a class to fill this void and co-designed a syllabus that gained curriculum committee approval. I successfully co-taught this class in the Fall 2007 semester, with a focus on exploring how African Americans have used symbols to discover, maintain and mobilize their identities. Using a mixture of public address, music and visual images and guest lectures, we studied the impact of racialized communication on individual, collective, and intercultural identity formation and its ability to catalyze social change in national and transnational contexts. I am proud to report that 50 students enrolled in African American Rhetoric and Image, and that they represented a variety of races/ethnicities and countries of origin. Our greatest accomplishment was making African American culture relevant to the diverse group while demonstrating the ways that all cultures have rhetorical strategies that are equally valid and important. Learners (regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, learning style or country of origin) reported that they felt secure and confident as they contributed to the conversation and provided fresh perspectives.

Though the class is officially over, a majority of students still visit my office hour “virtually” to continue discussing certain issues raised in the class and in classes they are now taking. I consider this interaction a special honor as I watch them go on to academic, artistic, corporate, nonprofit, public sector, and community career settings both in the United States and abroad. I carry these successes with me as I continue teaching undergraduate courses such as Communication Theory, Rhetorical Criticism, Rhetoric of Popular Culture, Race in the Media and, most recently, Argumentation and Advocacy. In Argumentation and Advocacy we focus on applying critical argumentation theory to real-world events and causes about which we are passionate, as well as to discovering the ways in which we are our own “walking arguments.” As always, the primary focus remains teaching learners how to connect the signs and symbols around them to their own identities and goals. I am confident that I can bring this sense of identification and purpose to any class setting and, even further, to mentoring opportunities beyond the classroom.

I would like to conclude by reemphasizing my primary objective in teaching: to inspire powerful people who will produce artful and influential ideas. True education begins a lifelong experience in which such ideas can be tested in action. Through the development of interpersonal and critical thinking skills, written and oral communication, and an appreciation for new theories and distinct ideas, learners are prepared to engage meaningfully with the people and situations they encounter. My goal is for them to leave the classroom with a better understanding of society, of themselves, and of the power they possess to catalyze positive and sustainable change. Working toward this goal allows me to mobilize my own identity by fostering an understanding of learning as a communal activity where, as James G. March described it so eloquently, “no one comes first and no one stands alone.”